Learning to Weather the Storm (Plague, Day 65, May 9, 2020)

Every morning around 7:30 or 8:00, I throw on a particularly thick Rutgers hoodie and a well-worn pair of sneakers. I hook up my wireless earbuds and tune into The Daily podcast on Spotify. Then I go out for a mile walk. It’s nothing ambitious. Just takes me about 30 minutes. But it gives me a little alone time, away from the other inmates in this asylum.

I have been religious about this walk for the past month. I head out in rain and during unexpected cold snaps, like today. Just a couple of months ago, I avoided bad weather being rather wimpy about shivering. There were spin classes at the gym and trips to the museum or the mall to keep me amused and exercised. Now, I have no choice but to deal with the damp and the cold.

I have made friends with bad weather, which makes me feel very rugged indeed. This morning it was 35 degrees and with a brisk breeze when I headed out. I listened to an interview with Rick Steves and thought about Facebook, my current writing project, and various plans to keep Ian amused today.


For some reason, all the smoking bathroom kids who scared the shit out of me in high school, have friended me on Facebook. I’m finally popular! Woot! Anyway, they’re all talking about how vaccines cause COVID. Turns out, they still scare me.

I am starting to see other conspiracy theories floating around social media. There are some people think that Bill Gates has released this virus to take over schools and our lives, and make a bazillion dollars in the process.

I am not sure what to do about it. Should I face down these semi-strangers on social media and force them to stop spouting their crazy ideas? Or do I have compassion? They are clearly desperate and sad individuals, so maybe I should let them cling to their ideas. It’s probably a waste of my time to convince them that they are wrong, so I won’t. But I might unfriend them, so they don’t depress me with their stupidity.

Steve’s theory is that the Enlightenment has always had a fragile hold on our society. This pandemic, if the pain goes on for a long time, could unleash all those people who never trusted science and ideas. In former lives, these people were witch burners and phrenologists. They’re highly dangerous and more numerous than we realize.

If that’s the case, then I shouldn’t unfriend them and allow the Conspiracy Virus to spread unchecked. The Conspiracy Virus is just as dangerous as the virus that makes us cough.

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Online education could go on for years.

I’m reading Corey Robin’s New Yorker piece on public colleges.

What happened when work opened up, but schools stayed closed in Italy? Answer: Women are screwed.

A photoessay of the closed subways in New York City.

Just as some kids are learning more with virtual education, some workers, like my husband, are perfectly happy and productive at home.

I’m loving “The Morning” — The New York Times’ top stories of the day.

Andrew Cuomo on his daughter’s boyfriend.

Can We Ever Go Back? (Plague, Day 63, May 7, April 2020)

I was talking with an ESL teacher earlier in the week. By all accounts, she is an extraordinarily devoted teacher, so I really appreciated her insights.

As we chatted, she wondered how her students were faring with the lack of school. She said this situation was permanently changing us. She said she couldn’t imagine how we would ever go back.

As Donald Trump and the governors talk about opening up businesses and society again, I talk to teachers and observe board of ed meetings every day, and I’m hearing a completely different story. Schools aren’t anticipating going back to normal months from now. They have no idea how they will be able to open schools safety in September — five months from now.

They are talking through various plans, like social distancing students in the classroom, which would mean that they would need double the amount of classroom space. Maybe only half the students will attend school at the same time. Since teachers couldn’t simultaneously teach regular school and Zoom classes, that would probably mean that students would only be educated part time.

They have no idea how they’ll educate students who have regressed by a full year. They have no idea how they’ll provide special education services. They have no idea how they’ll keep older teachers safe.

Individual schools sit around waiting for some guidance from the state about how they are supposed to be managing the situation RIGHT NOW, and they aren’t getting any help. Everybody is out on their own. A few schools are making things work, but most aren’t.

Schools have been duct taped together this spring, but things are slowly falling apart.

Most parents have given their schools a pass so far. Their biggest concerns have been matters like the prom and graduation, but the rumbles of discontent, particularly among parents with younger kids, are growing louder.

I have no idea where we are going. Will an edTech company, like the Khan Academy, step into the void? Will parents revolt? Will there be a mass exit of the most educated parents? What is going to be the long term impact on the most vulnerable students? Will teachers strike if they are forced back into schools this fall?

As scientists warn that we are only in the second inning in dealing with the pandemic, we are also only in the second inning in rebuilding various government functions, like public education, public college, and transportation. Private businesses can just open their doors, but until the schools are back in order, they won’t have any workers or customers.

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Cuomo and Gates say they are going to reinvent education.

Some kids are learning better on the computer than in the classroom. What does the research say?

I have two friends and family struggling with cancer during this pandemic. I guess Caitlin Flanagan is dealing with the same problem.

When New York City shuts down the subways, you know we are living in crazy times.

Linda Hirshman (remember her?) believes Tara Reade, but will vote for Biden anyway.

I will not panic-buy a Peloton. I’m a suburbanite with access to open streets for walking and running, but might download their iPhone app, which is good for any kind of workout.

I adore OCD office supplies, but an $80 desk organizer tray might be peak New York Times Style Section.

Gossip and the News (Plague, Day 62, May 6, 2020)

As life… and death… chug along during this strange period, I find that I get my information from two sources — from gossip from friends and from the news. Now that I’m back to working on an article, I’m also getting information from various strangers who share their own gossip.

It will be years before the gossip is put together with concrete scientific research to flesh out the big picture. Each of us is experiencing this pandemic differently. Everybody has their stories right now, and not enough people are bringing those stories together to stitch together the big picture. Just as we need them the most, journalists are being furloughed or are sidelined with childcare responsibilities.

I think going forward, I’m going to use my daily diary posts on this blog to share the gossip, and I’ll follow up with links to the best journalism of the day. So what gossip can I share today?


One of my best friends got the virus last month. She’s out on Long Island, so she probably had the bad New York variety of the virus. You don’t want to get this. She was out of commission for two weeks; it is taking a long time to get her lung capacity back to normal. Her teenager daughters had mild cases. But weirdly, her overweight, asthmatic husband never felt ill.

She got the antibody test last week. She was told that her antibody test was one of the good ones, with a high validity rate. The test found that indeed she and her daughters had the antibodies, but her husband, who lived in the same house with all the sickness, did not.

In some ways, this was good news. Her daughters can get jobs over the summer, which will be good for family harmony. But they’ll bring in the virus into the house every evening and could infect their vulnerable dad. Theoretically, they could walk around in public without masks, but there is no system in place yet to identify who is safe and who isn’t. Going forward, government is going to have to figure out that.


Even as we hear more and more about states opening up, teachers and administrators tell me that they are nowhere close to opening up schools and colleges. Without camps, nursery schools, and elementary schools, the economy can’t open.

I’m also hearing lots of confusion by administrators about how they will open schools in September. These plans are particularly murky for classrooms with more intensely disabled children, who require lots of physical contact.

Each school is coming up with their own plans for the fall, just as they have done all along. The diversity of methods for handling this pandemic is truly amazing. The lack of centralized planning for educating kids has been stark.

If we are really going to have to reinvent education going forward, as Bill Gates and Andrew Cuomo discussed, centralization will have to be a big part of any plan.

Gates has tried to revolutionize education before, but hit major resistance from both the unions and conservatives. Neither have had a big voice during this pandemic, so this might be the right time for Gates.


We made a truly great meal for Cinco de Mayo yesterday. Steve made pulled pork in the InstaPot. His pork cooked in a mixture of beer and orange juice. I made jalapeño poppers, beans, and guacamole. A couple of friends joined me for a socially distant glass of wine before dinner.

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Have you been staring at the title of books behind public figures as they work from home? I have. If you care about these things, here’s info about Prince Charles’ bookcase. (More pictures of his books here.) Mostly because I am estimating how much I could sell those book for on my weekend Etsy shop. Do have the “credibility bookcase?

I’m appalled at the politicization of social distancing. Here are a couple of articles on the topic.

How to cook dried beans.

I making stuffed jalapeños for Cinco De Mayo/Taco Tuesday. Steve is putting pork should in his Insta-Pot for pulled pork tacos.

Is this pandemic making you think about your favorite Stephen King novel? If so, I suggest his memoir about writing.

The New York Times’s updates have become part of my daily routine.

The Cheese Touch (Plague, Day 60, May 4, 2020)

In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the kids develop a game around a piece of moldy cheese on the school playground. If someone touches it, they get an invisible disease like the cooties and to get rid of it, they have to touch another kid, who then become the host of the vile and dreaded “cheese touch.”

The state parks of New Jersey opened up this weekend. We ventured out early on Sunday to one that we considered particularly remote and unexciting. We put on masks when we came close to another group of people, but we were the only. people walking around with on and off masks. They passed us on narrow paths breathing their foul germs on us, and I was grossed out.

And angry. Yes, I was angry at those people who couldn’t be bothered to put a mask on their face as they passed me on a trail. What was wrong with them? It’s not that difficult.

When will I stop looking at non-family members as disgusting virus generators? It will be a long time. Right now, they all have the Cheese Touch in my mind.

If all those people were flouting social distancing in my population dense and hard hit state, then we’re screwed. The rates will go back up again. And my parents will be in danger. We’ll blow by that 100,000 death count in a few weeks.

We’re getting better at amusing ourselves without our usual weekend amusements. On Saturday, Steve and I got dressed up. I actually put on a dress. It was a casual one, but it was fancier than I’ve gotten in ages. Steve put on a nice shirt. And we went for a drive in his convertible. A date night for a social distant world. We’re so easily amused these days.

Other things that made us happy this weekend included a new expanded garden, a lovely take out dinner, and a social distanced backyard cocktail with a couple of friends. Next up, a blog post with some links.